Many thanks to my beta, SiaLater.
Of Whoresons and Nobles
The air was thick with smoke, and stank of ash and char and the sickly-sweet rot of darkspawn blood. He heard screams, the war cries of fighting and death throes of the dying, mixing with the din of clashing metal to create a cacophony fit to make his ears ring as battle waged all around him.
It was madness, but secretly Zevran loved it.
A little twisted, perhaps, but Zevran had embraced that bloodthirsty side of him long ago, even though he very rarely allowed himself to slip out of the leash of tamed assassin and into the mindset of the trained killer.
And it had served him well, so far, allowing him to survive wave upon wave of darkspawn as Ferelden, united under the banner of the Grey Wardens, met with the Archdemon's army at Denerim. He'd managed to fight his way into the now-secure city center, and had not even a scratch on him.
But such things had to end, eventually, and it seemed that Ferelden's army was about to force it to end, quickly. So far they had managed to hold their own, but they were on shaky ground. The enemy horde fought without caring about fatigue or death, and if this kept up, sooner or later they would eventually fall to the darkspawns' overwhelming numbers.
He looked to where the Warden and Alistair had removed themselves, a good distance away from everyone else, and appeared to be having a conversation that was too intense to be a mere discussion but far too quiet to be an argument.
He studied them, two men who had somehow managed to gain enough power to bring the people of Ferelden, with all its various factions, into fighting together as a united army. They formed an interesting contrast while standing together in their suits of armor, with his Warden resplendent in dark blue and silver, and Alistair a bright beacon of gold and royal purple.
Royal in truth, now.
Zevran smiled to himself as he remembered how Alistair had reacted when the Warden had made him king. He'd been shocked, almost horrified, which was very much how Zevran had expected him to react. What Zevran had not expected was for Alistair to sigh and accept it as "necessary and inevitable," before he had smiled and semi-jokingly told the Warden to stick around just so he wouldn't make too many bad decisions. Zevran had seen the hard resolve in Alistair's eyes, and wondered when exactly during the past couple of years did Alistair change into someone who Zevran would actually call kingly. If anyone had told the assassin two years ago that he would be allied with a figure as influential as the king of a nation, he would have laughed in their faces. Strange how fate had led him to this path.
The conversation appeared to take a less friendly turn. Zevran could see Alistair gesticulating far more visibly than before, and while he couldn't make out Alistair's words he could certainly hear Alistair's voice get more and more angry with each passing moment. And the Warden had grown still and silent, but Zevran thought he recognised the set of those shoulders, the tilt of that head.
Whatever Alistair said was only making the Warden become more quietly determined. If Alistair had been trying to change the Warden's mind about something, he was failing badly.
Zevran raised his head to look at the towering silhouette of Fort Drakon in the distance.
The Grey Warden Riordan had said that they should take a very small party to Fort Drakon, where he intended to lure the Archdemon towards so it can be killed easily. When he had said that both Alistair and the Warden should be part of that group, Zevran had seen the Warden's lips tightening into a thin line, his eyes going flat. It was obvious that the Warden had no intention of following Riordan's plans. Not the entirety of it, anyway. And if that was what they were arguing about, Zevran suspected that not even the threat of the Maker's Wrath would dissuade the Warden from whatever decision he had made.
The Warden would never put Alistair on such a risky mission. Not when Alistair was to become King.
Zevran sensed the people around him stirring to attention, and looked up to see the Warden and Alistair walking towards them, their faces remarkably calm despite their heated discussion earlier. As if on cue, the Warden's inner circle, the companions who had stood by his side throughout the Blight, gathered together in a tight group before the two men.
Zevran expected the Warden to speak up, but surprisingly, it was Alistair who cleared his throat, drawing their attention to him.
"Some of you may have heard this already, but I shall repeat it for clarity's sake. The Warden Riordan will be in charge of luring the Archdemon to Fort Drakon. A small party, led by our illustrious leader here—" He slapped a not-so-gentle hand on the Warden's shoulder. "—will follow and meet Riordan at the top of the fort, in order to finish off the Archdemon and end this war. The rest of us will stay here with the army, and stop the bulk of the horde from invading further into Denerim, giving our comrades time to reach Fort Drakon quickly." Alistair raised an eyebrow. "If anyone has an objection to this very foolhardy plan, do speak up now."
Zevran looked around, but no one said anything. There was an air of clear determination amongst all of them, shining brightly in their eyes. They were ready.
"Very well, then. Warden," Alistair said, gesturing at their group. "Have you decided who shall go with you?"
"I have," the Warden said. His eyes drifted over their little gathering, as if he was gauging their mood, their preparedness, before he listed out the names of those he'd chosen. It was a very short list.
Zevran's name was not on it.
Zevran could sense their surprise, felt eyes stare at him and the Warden in shock. Leliana was standing right beside him, and he heard her make a little gasp, but when she looked at him for answers, he kept his face impassive and unsurprised.
Let her know, without saying words, that this was already planned, and he knew it would happen.
The Warden dismissed them, ordering them to make their last preparations before returning to battle, and Zevran quietly withdrew, moving away to somewhere a little less noisy.
Leliana followed him, as he expected her to do, and when he stopped to look at her, she reached out, clutching his arm, her expression pained. "Zevran, are you alright with this?"
Zevran shrugged, smiling. "Why shouldn't I be all right? Maker knows that my talents are needed here, where they can do the most damage. Experience has taught us that daggers are not very effective against a giant lizard that can fly and breathe fire, no? Your arrows are far more useful against that sort of foe."
"It's fine, my dear Leliana," he said, more gently. "The Warden and I had discussed this at Redcliffe. If for whatever reason we had to separate during this battle, I am to go with Alistair, and keep the King of Ferelden alive for as long as my heart still beats in my chest."
Leliana studied his face, as if trying to see how he really felt, but if she expected him to be visibly upset she would be sorely disappointed.
Zevran had already made peace with this particular decision, long before they even marched towards Denerim.
Eventually she lowered her eyes to the ground, looking sad and resigned. "It just seems so wrong that you aren't fighting by his side."
"Not the most romantic, I know," he said lightly. "Ah, but such is war, and one must prioritise results over sentiment. You and I both know this all too well, no?"
Her lips twitched. "Yes, indeed." She raised her head, and met his gaze. "But that does not mean that you two cannot reunite after this. I swear to you, Zevran, that I will do my best to bring him back to you safe and alive, even if I have to sacrifice my own life to do it. I promise."
Zevran felt the urge to try and dissuade her, but he quashed it before he could find the words. He knew better to argue against Leliana when she looked like that, her eyes burning hot with the fierceness of faith and purpose. "I'll hold you to that." He grinned and patted the hand that was still holding onto his arm. "Don't mind me. I'm sure you have things to do right now, before you go off on this quest."
She bit her lip, but instead of letting go, she abruptly closed her arms around him, enveloping him in a hug. "May the Maker's Light guide you along your way," she said. "And know that I'm proud to call you a friend."
He blinked, a little stunned, before he laughed softly and hugged back, squeezing her briefly and tightly. "I can say the same to you, my dear."
Leliana stepped back, wiping at her eyes, but her smile was bright and brilliant. "That's a very bad habit of yours," she scolded. "You never use real words to say what you really want to say."
"It's bad luck to speak your wishes out loud, you know, or so the old Antivan saying goes," he replied. "Now, shoo, I'm quite sure you have your own preparations to take care of."
He watched as Leliana joined the group that had congregated around the Warden. It was clear that every one of them wanted to give the Warden some final words before he departed.
Especially since none of them were certain that the Warden would survive this incredibly dangerous quest.
He stayed just beyond earshot, waiting patiently until the last of them had stepped away, and the Warden was once again on his own. Only then did he slip to the Warden's side, nudging him with an elbow.
"Someone's popular," he murmured. "Quite the spectacle you made there, with all your loyal subjects surrounding you."
The Warden looked tired, but he gave Zevran a wan smile that lasted for a mere blink. "It's still odd, to be honest," he said. "I don't feel like I'd earned that loyalty."
Zevran smirked. "Now, now, don't think of yourself so harshly. You'd earned that adoration, you know. Every last one of us would fight by your side, as long as it'll keep you alive."
The smile on the Warden's face vanished at the pointed tone of Zevran's words. "Still angry at me, I see."
"Just a bit," Zevran said. "How is a man supposed to react when told to stay away, when the person he cares for the most is walking straight into danger?"
The Warden growled at him. "I'd already said—"
Zevran let out his own sigh, shaking his head. "It's fine. I gave my word, yes? I'll do as I promised. Even if I think you're being foolish about it." And I don't want to fight you, he thought. Not now. Not when it might be the last time we can speak to each other.
And indeed, he had given his word. Reluctantly and with a great deal of resentment, but during their last night at Redcliffe, just before the army marched, the Warden had made Zevran swear to protect Alistair. "It won't do to win this war against the darkspawn, only for our future King to fall," the Warden had said. "There's no point if Ferelden ends up descending into a civil war again, just because of a preventable death. Alistair is too important right now for Ferelden to lose him."
And you're not important? Zevran wanted to retort, but he had kept his mouth shut. He knew the question did not come from a logical point of view; it was a selfish wish, to want to protect the Warden at the cost of everything else.
And Zevran knew what was at stake here, even if it pained him to admit it. His Warden may be instrumental in gathering the conflicting forces of Ferelden as one united army, but in the grander scheme of things, a Grey Warden was far more easy to replace than a King.
Zevran glanced up at Fort Drakon again, knowing that time was running out, and hating it.
"So here we part ways," he said quietly. He glanced at the very small group of people waiting to depart on the Warden's orders—a painfully small group, would it be enough to keep the Warden safe? "You do not wish me to stand by you, in the end?"
The Warden followed his gaze, and huffed out a breath, acknowledging without words that he knew what Zevran was thinking. "I do not wish to put you in that kind of danger," he said, just as quiet.
The sheer hypocrisy of the Warden's comment made Zevran burst out laughing, in spite of himself. "Oh, now you worry about my health!" he exclaimed, before he sobered.
His eyes drifted over the Warden, his lord and lover, taking note of the handsome face that he'd come to adore. The sharp-angled planes that made him look harsh and foreboding and far older than he seemed, until he smiled one of his wolfish grins, betraying his true age. The piercing eyes that always seemed to be able to look past Zevran's masks and into the most vulnerable parts of him. The thick hair that Zevran had ran fingers through countless times. The thin lips that had kissed Zevran again and again, each time somehow as sweet and as addicting as the first kiss they'd shared, from what felt like ages ago.
Don't go, he wanted to say. Don't leave me alone.
I love you too much to let you go now.
But he kept his words to himself.
You never use real words to say what you really want to say.
He sighed, knowing Leliana was right. He was a coward, even now.
"In truth..." He licked his suddenly dry lips, and kept his gaze locked with the Warden's, making sure that even if he couldn't say it, the Warden could at least see it. "For the chance to be by your side, I would storm the Black City itself. Never doubt it."
The Warden tilted his head, studying Zevran for a long moment, and then he smiled, wry and at the same time, in some strange indefinable way, tender.
The unexpected softness of that smile took Zevran's breath away, leaving him stunned, so he was unprepared when the Warden stepped close, a hand raising up to frame the side of Zevran's face, before the Warden leaned in and touched their lips together, as soft and light as a feather brushing against his skin.
Zevran heard a gasp, knew that it came from his own throat. But before he could respond, the Warden drew back, just far enough that their eyes could meet. The hand on his cheek cupped his face more fully, thumb running over where the dark lines of his tattoo were inked into his skin.
"Whatever happens," the Warden murmured, his eyes staring into Zevran's as if he was looking at Zevran's very soul, speaking to it. "I love you."
Zevran felt his heart flip over itself, even as his chest tightened with an indescribable ache. The Warden's eyes, gentle and understanding, made Zevran hate his own cowardice even more. "Cruel to the end," Zevran breathed.
The Warden's smile widened. "Some things don't need to be said out loud. Although it would have been nice to hear it from you." The Warden stepped back and away, hand dropping. "Take care of yourself, Zevran."
"The same to you," Zevran said.
The Warden nodded, turned. And walked away, calling out to the people he'd chosen to fight the Archdemon with, once more the warrior and leader.
Zevran watched as the soldiers that were with them cheered, shouting words of encouragement as the Warden and his party departed. It was only when Zevran could no longer see him did Zevran shake his head, gathering his wits, and went to Alistair's side.
Alistair watched him approach, waited until Zevran was within earshot before murmuring, "I guess the Warden told you to stay close to me, huh."
Zevran laughed. "You guessed right," he said with a grin. "And I shall do my best to stick to you. Like a stubborn rash."
Alistair didn't even blink at Zevran's deliberate vulgarity. He simply nodded. "I'm glad to have you fighting by my side, even if it was at the Warden's request," he said.
Alistair's voice was even, almost cheerful. But Zevran did not miss the flicker in Alistair's expression, something dark and pained flashing in his eyes as the Warden's title passed his lips.
Some things don't need to be said out loud.
Zevran glanced back again at where he last saw the Warden, feeling the uneasiness in his chest turn into sharp-edged ice.
Because when the Warden said 'I love you', Zevran couldn't help but think that it had sounded more like 'Goodbye'.
~ to be continued ~
Author's note: I'm sorry.